Meditation - The Call of Taizé
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
April 8, 2018 (Lectionary)
Will you pray with me? May our meditation on the idea of sacred community together, the words of my mouth, the silences we share, the music we sing, and our time together today help us all to live in unity and compassion with all your people. Amen.
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life forevermore. -Psalm 133
A meditation is different from a sermon in much the same way that today’s Psalm is different from other lectionary readings of Scripture: it is shorter and more focused...purposeful. Rather than being a long, showy narrative, a meditation has the simple goal of helping us unfold a specific image, word, or idea for our spiritual wellbeing and nourishment. Today, I want us to meditate on this one sentence and to allow it to empower our living: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
I want to tell you the story of one place on earth that has striven to turn Psalm 133 from a poem into reality: a place of living Biblical poetry. In the wake of one of the darkest periods of human history, The Second World War, a monk named Brother Rodger returned to a small village in France to begin a grand experiment in grace. It was the same village where he had with his sister, during the war itself, helped rescue refugee Jews and others from the grips of the Nazis and the Vichy Regime. After being found out to be part of the resistance, he was forced to flee, but after the war he was called back to that small hilltop rural setting to start something new: The Taizé Community. It is a place that I call a grand experiment in living grace. Brother Roger was raised in the Protestant tradition in Switzerland, but he had discovered his true faith in ecumenism—a word that is the living out of the idea that it is good and pleasant when kindred live together in unity. He is reported to have said when visiting with the pope that, “I have found my own identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.”
Brother Rogers’s vision started small in nothing more than a rural French farmhouse in an extremely isolated corner of the country. Believe me, the only thing within an easy distance is a small farm that sells cheese and bread to pilgrims. This small vision for a place of meditation, of welcome, of poverty, hard work, and radical grace started on the smallest of scales, but then it grew into something that has changed the face and sound of Christianity the world over. On Easter Sunday of 1949, Rodger and 9 others committed themselves to lives of mercy, hard work, and simplicity. Now over 100,000 pilgrims (mostly young adults under the age of 30) make their way to this small village in Southern France every single year. They sing simple, joyful, corporate, deep, amazing a cappella songs, work hard, and engage in meaningful Bible study and conversation with each other and the monks in what seems like 100’s of languages and traditions.
I was one of those pilgrims once. I took my spring break from university on the other side of France to journey on an all-day train and bus ride from Nantes through Paris and down… way down to Macon-Village and Taizé. I arrived in the middle of a March rainstorm during evening prayers. I remember standing outside the giant pilgrimage-church and hearing the chants flow through the open doorway… the flickering of candles lighting the way inside. Once inside, I was immediately surrounded by a sense of peace and welcome. “This place is your place. This is a place where all kindred live together (eve if only a week at a time) in unity!” Oh, friends, how good and pleasant it is!
It is like God, through the tradition of the lectionary, knew exactly what we needed on this Second Sunday in Easter in the year 2018. Even as it is now Easter, I have to admit with the news around the world and in our own community (on campus); it still feels very much like Lent—a time in need of prayer and reflection. We need this reminder both in scripture and in collective song that a better world where people live in harmony is in fact possible and promised. We too are called to begin small experiments of radical grace and mercy in our own time that sometimes looks very dark and cruel indeed. This vision of a world where all live together in unity should inspire us, yet our pessimism has gone from being occasional and short lived to chronic and epidemic. Today, as we continue on our Eastertide Journey of hope and resurrection with Christ, let the story of Taizé, its music, and its legacy give you hope. May the vision of a place where all God’s people gather in peace give us pause to look at how we are seeking to create those spaces in our lives and in this congregation.
We need this reminder both in scripture and in collective songs together that a better world where people live in harmony is in fact possible. That is if we believe in the promises of God. I know it because I have seen it, and I don’t mean in a dream or as a metaphor but in a real place. I have seen this vision enacted on a hilltop surrounded by cows… and this time I am not (for once) talking about Iowa.
Picture yourself deep in the countryside in the smallest of all imaginable towns perched on small hill: farms, barns, cows, lots of cows, sheep, goats, and all of the smells associated with them. Picture yourself on a hill in the French countryside. Picture an old church. Picture now a tall gate with a bell tower perched at its peak. This is where God’s dream is possible.
Now picture yourself in your own home, how can you start small to create your own communities of peace and hope? What are you doing at Plymouth or in your own life that welcomes diverse people into your space? You don’t have to be a French monk to live a life of Taizé. You simply have to be ready to experiment with mercy and take risks with grace. This is also where God’s dream is possible.
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
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